Solar Homes: The Future

Solar Energy HomeEvery other year, the Department of Energy hosts the Solar Decathlon, where students from universities all over the world compete in a series of contests to make an affordable, sustainable energy solar home. This year was the sixth Solar Decathlon since its inception in 2002. The students spend two years developing, designing, and building solar homes. At the conclusion of these ten contests, the solar homes were transported to and set up in Irvine, California where they were judged.

This year, the students from Vienna University of Technology in Austria were declared the winners with their highly efficient Austrian vacation chalet. However, back Stateside, the students from Vermont’s Norwich University made huge progress with their modern log cabin style house, the Delta T-90. The house won the Affordability Contest in the Decathlon, costing an estimated $168,135 to build. Where the real savings comes into play is in its design, specifically for New England winters. The winter storms, particularly in the northern states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, require homeowners to use a lot of energy to keep warm, whether that is from electric heating, oil, natural gas, or propane.

The Delta T-90 House is constructed with 16-inch thick walls and deep set windows, which helps to minimize heat loss. The home also features a mini-split heat pump HVAC system. This special pump reduces the need for ductwork and mechanical parts like fans. The students estimated that within 15 years, the savings would equal the difference between the home and a mobile home.

The Delta T-90’s price has come in well under the Affordability Contest winners from 2011’s Solar Decathlon. In 2011, the top two affordable houses were $229,890 and $249,568. Every home from 2013’s Decathlon was constructed for less than $600,000. Part of why these types of homes are becoming more affordable is that solar based power is becoming more efficient and more affordable. In fact, one can purchase DIY solar kits from hardware and some big box stores.

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